By Kevin Redding
Suffolk County police officers recently paid a lengthy visit to Park Avenue Plaza in Miller Place — not to make arrests, but to make friends.
Three members of the 6th Precinct mingled with residents of all ages at Crazy Crepe Cafe July 13 for “Coffee with a Cop,” a monthly initiative that gives police officers and community members a chance to meet one another, discuss concerns, or just share a coffee and some laughs.
Originally launched in 2011 in Hawthorne, California to better connect officers with the citizens they serve, the concept was adopted by each of Suffolk County’s precincts just over a year ago.
“It’s a great opportunity for people to approach the police in a nice, calm setting,” Community Oriented Police Officer Enforcement unit Sergeant Walter Langdon said. “Usually when we have interactions with the public it’s when dealing with something bad or stressful. [Coffee with a cop] is a way for them to see we’re not just here to arrest people, we’re here to help people and give them advice any way we can.”
Community Liaison Officer Will Zieman called the initiative a “homerun” for residents.
He said discussions with them ranged from suspicious activity in their neighborhoods, to the county’s heroin problem, to future employment with the police force.
“It’s a unique forum and it’s unconventional by prior standards in a sense because time isn’t always there for us to have that extended conversation with people,” Zieman said. “So here we can engage on a totally different level, and it’s really cool and we see incredible results from this.”
With crayons and junior police badge stickers in hand, Zieman knelt at a table to chat with 7-year-olds Natalie and Katherine Byrnes, who asked him what it took to be a police officer.
“The most important thing right now is everything you do in school and how you behave and interact with people matters,” Zieman told the Miller Place elementary students. “School is super important, because they go back to your schoolwork, check report cards and want to know what kind of students you were, and if you pass that process, you can become a police officer.”
When Zieman gave them free passes for a police event at Sky Zone Trampoline Park in Mount Sinai next month, the girls beamed.
“I thought it was awesome,” Natalie said with joy after meeting the officer.
Rocky Point resident Debbie Donovan, who wandered into the cafe for lunch with her kids not knowing about the event, said it was a great idea.
“I think people need to see the presence of the police and this takes away the distance, the fear, the intimidation and the stereotypes for both kids and adults.”
— Debbie Donovan
“I think people need to see the presence of the police and this takes away the distance, the fear, the intimidation and the stereotypes for both kids and adults,” said Donovan, who wanted to speak to the officers about escalating drug problems in her community.
“Unfortunately, Rocky Point is changing and not for the better, especially on a particular side of town,” Donovan said. “It’s hitting way too close to home. I do see police more visible than I recall growing up, which does provides a sense of security.”
Her 11-year-old daughter Rhiannon said she likes that the police interact with the community.
“To some people, cops are just, ‘you did this, so you’re going to jail,’ but cops here want people to enjoy themselves,” she said.
Sixth Precinct Crime Sections Officer Dena Miceli, a plainclothes cop who explained to Rhiannon and her brother Jake about daily tasks on the job, said it means a lot when kids show an interest.
“If we can make some kind of difference in their lives and be a positive role model, that’s really all that we can ask for,” Miceli said. “This is such a helpful thing not just for residents, but for us also.”
Zieman said through the initiative, the department aims to collaborate with any and all local businesses and elected officials within each precinct to try to expand community involvement as much as possible. When he reached out to Crazy Crepe Cafe on a whim, manager Nick Mauceri was immediately on board.
“We love getting involved with the community in any way and this is something different than we’ve ever done before,” Mauceri said. “The conversations and exchanges are so personable and relatable, it’s great to see.”
Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) worked alongside the 6th Precinct to make the event happen.
“The best resource for our law enforcement are the residents and they need to understand the police are here to help them,” Anker said. “Communication ties the fibers in our community and this is a great way to encourage people to create a relationship with our police.”
The next “Coffee with a Cop” event will be held at Smith Haven Mall Aug. 3 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. All ages are welcome. Visit www.facebook.com/SuffolkPD/ for more information.